Corinne Wasmuht

New York

at Petzel

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Anyone actively participating in contemporary urban life across the globe would feel a sense of déjà vu looking at the high-velocity, fragmented cityscapes and architectural spaces in Corinne Wasmuht’s luminous, often panoramic paintings. They are based on digital collages Wasmuht seamlessly weaves together on the computer from hundreds of photographs she takes herself or collects online of people moving through airport terminals, shopping malls, pedestrian plazas and other busy public places worldwide. The paintings draw viewers into the familiar-feeling vistas with strong receding vanishing points, only to confuse with shifting perspectives and structures that merge and melt into abstraction. They mirror the slippery, nonlinear narratives of dreams or unreliable memories.

For the seven paintings in this show, the Berlin-based artist worked at an ambitious scale not uncommon in contemporary German painting. Yet her radiant palette is highly distinctive—full of mint greens, atmospheric blues, soft pinks, purples and grays, often shot through with darker colors suggesting shadows. In a painstaking process that can take as long as a year for a single work, she builds countless layers of thin translucent glaze on whitewashed and polished wood or aluminum panels. Conjuring stained-glass windows or light boxes, the paintings seem almost illuminated from behind. Colors appear to eat into each other like digitized images breaking apart, but each puzzle piece of pigment is in fact executed carefully by hand.

Pehoé Towers (2013), the largest piece on view, at more than 23 feet wide, is a sweeping scene anchored by the dark columns of an outdoor pavilion structure that repeats three times across the image. Figures appear to be in constant motion, moving forward and receding, and also seem in the process of materializing from or dissolving into a dizzying, dappled ground composed of infinite bits of color, dominated by bright blues and greens. Whipping around the entire scene like Saturn’s rings are blue streaks suggesting centrifugal force or a time warp. Indeed, close examination reveals the repetition of some figures, altered only by the shifting background merging with their bodies, like films stills stuttering and overlapping in a projector. An abstracted cluster of figures on the far right of the painting becomes the focus of a smaller work titled Pehoé P (2015), with only one of the several faces clearly visible. The face is suspended as though in a daydream, capturing the psychological isolation of being lost inside one’s own head in the chaos of a crowd.

In Alnitak (2015)—the only painting in the show devoid of people—frothy waves and crystalline structures in an icy palette of pale blues, purples, grays and whites encroach on geometric architecture and a streetscape, turned sideways, of high-rises and parked cars. Wasmuht, who has compared herself to an archaeologist, here suggests the relentless deluge of nature on man-made habitats, in the future as in the past.